What holds us back from that bonny and convivial road to fair Elfland? (The road is convivial. We never reach Elfland). I don’t think it one thing in particular – not ennui, nor powerlessness, not lack of democracy, nor a fervent delusion – though it may be all of those things. Here’s a list of my own: –
ONE – DEFERRED RESPONSIBILITY BY SUBSCRIPTION TO NGOs
To me, a perverse and contrary influence is the power of NGOs (and also political parties). I explored in my last book, how governments create inquiries, select committees and even small government departments to deal with specific problems – with the underlying purpose of ignoring, while apparently considering those problems.
Governments might create a department for climate change specifically because they wish to ignore climate change.
Similarly, concerned citizens can subscribe to NGOs, so deferring, or side-lining their concerns, while continuing to live without a care.
Many pay small amounts of money to Friends of the Earth, (who express concerns about climate change) while jetting about the world on holiday and business trips – or they may pay similarly amounts to Oxfam or Save the Children, who send relief to communities dispossessed by land grabbers, who are supplying the donors’ out-of-season green beans.
Our subscriptions provide us with the identity of concerned citizen, so that we can continue to live without concern.
NGOs behave increasingly like government departments – issuing guarded policy statements in the serious language of state. Citizens are impressed, but nothing at all is done. Nothing is ever done using the language of state, because problems can only be solved by conversing in the tragi-comic, convivial language of tools.
The step from state language to the language of tools is from guarded policy statements to sunshine, wind and rain; to scarcity or abundance; to the senses: the first meadow sweet in the lane, or good cooking; to the comedies and tragedies of friends; to the morality of our being. Those are not serious things to the seriousness of state, or to serious journalism, or to serious NGOs, or to serious citizens and so are conveniently ignored.
TWO – BACKWARDS REASONING
George Monbiot (recent Guardian article) mentioned another quirk of reasoning, which can hold us back – backwards thinking. As he mentions, backwards reasoning can lead to all sorts of outcomes – collateral damages.
Wind farms on a local horizon can provoke a storm of anti-wind farm invective, which then seeks a backwardly-reasoned support. So, we might say without a thought of climate change that anthropogenic climate change is a myth dreamed up by wind farm developers.
Similarly, on the other foot, anti-fracking invective might conjure – also without thinking of climate change, the image of a climate change, which such gas extraction will cause. Rather than seeking tools for change we reach for weapons of defence.
We use such backwardly-reasoned weapons to defend the cars we love, the holidays we love, the landscapes we love and so on, creating a kind of tender poignancy – and a contagious one as communities bond to keep what they have in the face of change. Vigilantes are bonded similarly. Witches, communists, bankers and so on may be shadowy, dangerous evils which threaten our loved ways of life. We conjure the threat as shadowy and so have no need to define it.
Farmers have recently bonded with regards to the cows they love, in the slaughter of badgers – encouraged by a populist vigilante NFU and Environment Minister.
Of course this book would be away with the fairies to backwards reasoning from many different directions.
I’ll not get too defensive.
Vulnerability to the effects of resource depletion and changes in the weather will cause backwardly-reasoned defences in all of us. I hope that we shall be so busily engaged in adapting to changes as we learn from them, that fear of change will no longer evoke those shadowy bogey-men.
Here is George Marshall of the Climate Outreach Network. He is referring to our recently-sacked anti-environmentalist environment minister.
So what then can climate change communicators learn from this?
Firstly – Paterson understands well what we often do not. Environmentalists and scientists alike continue to assume that climate change denial can be overcome with more reports and data. They are wrong: this has to be understood as an appeal to values and identities.
Secondly – we can do well to adopt Paterson’s framing of environment around the cultural values of the national landscape. This confirms the finding of my own research as discussed in a recent report on “How to Build Climate Narratives Around National Identity and Cultural Pride”
Thirdly – we must, as a matter of ever greater urgency, develop a right wing discourse on climate change. Political orientation has become the single most reliable predictor of people’s positions on climate change. The centre right political worldview is very poorly served by environmentalists, most of whom have progressive left politics. Our failure to address this audience has left this critical social space wide open for aggressive deniers like Paterson to fill with their own narratives and language.
But we cannot and should not be filling this void on our own- and it would be disastrous for environmental organisations to do so. We need to step back and encourage and enable conservative communicators to come to the fore, shaping language around their own values. And this, I have to warn my colleagues in the Green movement, will involve allowing some new ways of talking that make us decidedly uncomfortable.
Finally we must not respond in kind, however tempting it might be. To do so would be to further fuel the very polarisation that Paterson wishes to create. This is not the place for a culture war and we must, at every opportunity, recognise our differences but speak over them to common values and shared concerns. More than any other issue climate change requires a sense of shared humanity and we must not let that be poisoned by the divisiveness of a failed politician preparing his speech for the dinner circuit.
THREE – DISPENSATION
Close to home for me is another way we are held back – the power of dispensation – so that a shopper who thinks that fossil-fuel-dependent, convivial town-destroying super markets are “bad” will yet shop in super markets, because she can buy an organic, sustainable, or fair trade dispensation inside. She may even flaunt her purchase as a political act to send market signals to the super market to stock more of such “good” produce.
The problem here is inappropriate balancing of unrelated problems, which should not and cannot physically exist on the same see-saw. The balance on the other side of super market should be proper shop or market square. The balance on the other side of Fair Trade should be unfair trade, while that on the other side of organically-grown produce should be produce grown using green revolutionary techniques which consume artificial and finite fertilisers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides.
Inappropriate dispensations, such as organic for super market are as silly as those once given by monkish pardoners, to those who’d behave badly in one direction by behaving better in another – perhaps by sufficient donation to the monk! Behaving badly by shopping in an amoral super market cannot be compensated by buying “moral” fair trade produce while shopping there.
What’s worse perhaps is that “organic” organisations such as the Soil Association give utterly-unsustainable super markets credence by endorsing their produce with the “morality” of an organic logo. So unsustainable behaviour is prolonged and also rewarded with a newly-endorsed market.
Instead of leading people out the Soil Association draws them in.
We are provided with reputable Soil Association excuses to hold back from change.
Similar processes of compensating for and so maintaining bad behaviour are carbon targets and audits.
Targets will always defer good behaviour, while audits follow the same inappropriate see-sawing as consumerist labelling – in which unrelated activities are balanced against each other.
We should behave as well as we can in each of our activities.
I know of an organic grower who has given talks and lectures to show that the carbon sequestered in his soil has been sufficient to compensate for his bi-annual holiday flights! That his carbon figures are false is by the by* – he believes them – by backwards reasoning.
*Our grower imports green waste from his local council (I think) which is an excellent and worthy thing to do if the compost is re-distributed equably. However, he has used such large amounts of compost on his own land that much of its value must have been wasted which could have been part of productive agricultural cycles elsewhere. Overall production of photosynthetic biomass must have been reduced, while that sequestered (I don’t like the term) in soil must also have been diminished from an optimum possibility of even distribution. On my see-saw he comes out morally-poor.
FOUR – TURNING MORAL COMMONS INTO AMORAL PROPERTY
The valuation of “eco system services” encloses what should be commons into the properties of capitalism. It is another sophistry to hold us back from change – once again by a balance of false dispensation. Readers must be aware that I’m not against capitalism – on the contrary, it may rescue us from the anti-capitalist and monetarist casino, which rules our lives today. However, precisely how much capital must be returned to the invaluable common will make long and interesting conversation in the Lands of Fairy.
True cost accounting of eco system services provided by monetarily-valued natural capital separates actions from ethics. The cult of the market liberates behaviour from its economic, ecologic and social consequences. To turn natural capital into a commodity for casino punts, strips another area of responsibility from our actions and does nothing to protect that commodity from exploitation.
In any case, true cost accounting pre-supposes that we have a capitalist economic system, when in truth we have never achieved one. Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century markets were manipulated by governments to particular rather than comparative advantages, while modern casinos are stripped of nearly all capital influence – Where are labour value and resource value? How much of my house price is of the energy, labour and materials used for its construction? – Perhaps a quarter, or probably less! The major part of the sale price is pure casino – the site value.
Ideas of true cost accounting have (for some) begun from the best of motives – the market rules, so how do we make the market a better place? How a merely monetarist casino will respond to an input of natural capital is anybody’s guess. It will buy and sell my house without seeing the house and it will buy and sell that natural capital without regard for any aspects of its substance. Natural capital will become another counter on the gamers’ board.
The post-modern market does not behave in the physical world. It responds less to scarcity and surplus and more to the speculative advantage of punters and the manipulative influences of those who offer abstract pictures of increasing or diminishing markets. For instance, an oil supplier will not reveal the true stock of her oil, because she wants to sell it when she wants to, regardless of the continuity of sales. She decides that a higher price (induced by scarcity) would restrict her sales. She lives in the present, wants her money now and fuck the future – As we’ve explored, the future is seen by punters as an abstraction for an abstract future-person’s present. Our oil supplier lives in the “real world” of the here and now revealed on her casino screen.
The hope for natural capital is to keep it well clear of that screen. True cost accountants have two genuine options – First to place natural capital in a true capitalist system, in which scarcity and surplus influence behaviour, or secondly to return it to the common, on which commoners can extract a labour value only by maintaining the common.
A true capitalist system pre-supposes an interested and curious human and moral valuation of capital – of advantages and disadvantages; of its extent; of its durability; of its usefulness. The foundation of capitalism is probity – without trusted valuation, the whole system collapses.
The moral prescriptions of behaviour on the common to maintain the common good achieves similar ends to those of a perfected capitalism.
True cost accounting sells both commons and capitalism down the river into the casino. Those who promote it with the best of motives would do better to help build alternative markets – alternative currencies – alternative social systems; to SHOUT that the destruction of the natural world for a contemporary and utterly careless advantage is WRONG. Why are we all so afraid of morals?
Here it is again: Goods can serve many purposes besides purchasing money, but money can serve no purpose besides purchasing goods, Adam Smith
Or another: Capitalism has been tried and found too difficult? On the contrary, capitalism has been found too difficult and has never yet been tried, with apologies to G K Chesterton
True cost accounting is following the same route, which once lead the organic movement astray in the Nineteen Nineties. “Organic” is now an insignificant and “niche” “brand” in an amoral casino. Organic produce has not changed the super market. On the contrary, the super market has overwhelmed what could have been organic distribution systems. True cost accounting won’t change the casino. The casino accounts neither truth nor cost.
FIVE – TIES TO DAILY BREAD
Of course, we are also held back because we are tied to existing market systems – Shoppers may have no shops but super markets nearby, and likewise a farmer may have no other market for her produce but the large pack-houses or abattoirs which supply super markets.
Many are tied to jobs which they may dislike for many reasons – moral or convivial – But with families to feed and house, the risk of change may be too great.
But ways out from The Mire are through it to the other side. We cannot deny The Mire’s existence. Compromise with the enemy (let’s be plain) is necessary because she exists – so long as we refuse to give or accept the dispensations. Those criss-crossing vapour trails, which the wind teases out into imitation cirrus clouds will over-lie our hopes for a while yet. Likewise, organic and fair trade labels will continue to actively endorse super market shopping – so discouraging alternatives.
I am unable to open a shop selling useful produce in my local market town, because that town is deserted. I’ll soon be bankrupt for lack of custom. We can be imprisoned in dependency on the jobs we have and on the infrastructures of the places we live in. Such dependency can evoke a helpless ennui, in which feeding our children is the only consideration. Well, I say that if we are held back from some small things, which can make us happy by the larger things which don’t, then take the small steps first – and small steps may lead to others. Enforced dependency on that we disapprove does not mean that our decisions are compromised, because decision-making has been taken from us. We can hope for and work for escape from that enforcement.
SIX – AGRICULTURAL SUBSIDY
Farmers are held back from change by the power of subsidy. However, farmers are chained to subsidy because commodity cereal and meat prices are too low to provide a living without it. Not only do subsidies distort markets, but a cross-party politics of cheap food has endorsed an unequal downward market pressure – a very few corporate buyers bidding against very many farmers. We have already explored how the right to subsidy itself has been enclosed as property – so that new entrants to farming must first have the wealth to buy their right to it.
Horticulture is a case aside – and one which I’ll place in the next chapter – What may draw us forward!
Cross-compliance to “environmental” guidelines restricts farming practices to those which achieve a pre-conceived landscape. Those landscapes are usually something like the Eighteenth Century enclosures, although why one period of history should be preserved over another is never made clear. I suspect that no-one has considered further than a simple nostalgia for a pre-industrial agriculture at just that imaginary moment before it was industrialised. In any case, why the preservation of a by no means benign, historical human activity should be regarded as “environmental” is a mystery.
“Environmental” NGOs are locked in the same delusion – that historical economies are natural ecologies. The states which they’d conserve hold us back from how we might reconsider the dependencies of economies on ecologies and visa versa. The terrible loss of both the mass and diversity of species, which industrial monocultures have caused, has lead to an uninspired merely reactionary thinking (or lack of thinking).
Conserving those passages of history in which very many people were dispossessed by sheep and a very few got very rich by it, seems odd to me. The enclosures cleansed people from lands which remain deserted today. Of those people, some starved, others ended in over-seas colonies and many more retreated to the degradation of mill towns, or were swallowed into the squalor of cities. Landscapes cleared in the name of progress support far fewer people than they used to – moreover they are for the most part, lifeless deserts. Those who are nostalgic for those fences and the trespassers will be prosecuted signs may be similarly nostalgic for a “national treasure” such as John Clare, who documented the tragedy not of the commons, but the enclosures – perhaps sheep may have contributed to the wooliness of post-modern thinking.
So environmental NGOs: CPRE, CPRW, Natural England and so on, (which inform agricultural subsidy thinking) would send us back to a shameful era of agricultural history, in which wealth accumulated and men decayed – and forget another in which every rood of ground maintained its man. However, I’m not suggesting the creation of any re- imagined period of history. Many in the Green Movement (including me) have sympathy for something like the Fourteenth Century – The guilds – Bottom the Weaver and Snug the Joiners’ guilds – before the vicious and avaricious enclosures of the reformation. We have partisan natures. Because of the football supporter tendency, we must be careful and critical of ourselves and others.
Chocolate box organisations, which have lobbied for chocolate box subsidies hold back the future and conserve economic anachronisms. They’d conserve the almost desert grasslands created by sheep and keep all but the lucrative tourist at bay – and then, strictly to the footpath. William Cobbett’s most frequent outbursts in Rural Rides were upon the size of parish churches serving deserted parishes – indicating once-thriving rural populations. The Black Death would have been no obstacle to repopulation. However land enclosure was so – often for the golden fleeces of sheep walks. As Thomas More famously said “Sheep have become so great devourers and so wild that they eat up and swallow down the very men themselves. They consume, destroy and devour whole fields, houses and cities.” I think we can assume that though many deserted villages were evacuated by the Black Death, desertification was maintained and swollen by enclosure of commons. Sheep devoured men. They munched good arable land. In poor harvest years through the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries staple bread was scarce, even though a few grew very rich by both the golden fleece and the power of their recently stolen properties.
“Environmental” organisations and environmental subsidy incentives seem intent on the preservation of degraded states of history. Yet they’d also extol Grey’s Elegy in a Country Churchyard, Oliver Goldsmith’s Deserted Village and the treasured writings of Cobbett and Clare. Perhaps they should pay more attention to sources, contemporary with their loved enclosures – all of which indicate that an agriculture without oil (and sheep) must be re-populated – in all the simple annals of the poor…
That land enclosure could lead to agricultural improvements is undeniable. (Although sheep in such quantities were no improvement) However, enclosure was pursued for the most part, simply to increase the properties of substantial yeoman farmers and the great estates. Of course commoners could agree on a just division of enclosures, but for the most part, local gangsters, such as Dukes, Thanes and Lords had their own way.
As time passed so enclosure became more solidly defined in law.
The Inclosure Act of 1773 was described as, An Act for the better Cultivation, Improvement, and Regulation of the Common Arable Fields, Wastes, and Commons of Pasture in this Kingdom.
The Act is still in force. It enables landowners to enclose land and remove the right of commoner’s access. Public meetings in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries to propose enclosure of open fields and commons were generally no more than a gathering of local landowners. Who would speak against squire or yeoman farmer who held the setting or removal of their wages and rents? It is true that enclosure enabled “agricultural improvements” – but usually improvements for the few and the dispossession of the many. Commons can also enable agricultural improvements.
In 1774, Parliament amended the Act so that notice of enclosure was posted to the door of the church for three consecutive Sundays in August or September!
In 1801 the Inclosure (Consolidation) Act was passed to further “tidy up” previous acts and to simplify the process. In 1845 the General Inclosure Act allowed for the appointment of local Inclosure Commissioners who could enclose land with no request to Parliament.
Anyway, both planning guidance and agri-environmental schemes seem intent on preserving picture postcard landscapes which evacuated people for sheep and abundant food for property and power.
In doing so, they maintain amoral, careless, property and power and endorse the evacuation of people, their morals, perceptions, ingenuities and dexterities from the land.
Once upon a time, at Bryn Cocyn, we were held back by the environmental scheme, Tir Gofal. We had rented some fields since Nineteen Seventy Eight – light, hill soils over shale (bordered by oak woodland) – used as rotational summer grazing throughout that time. No fertilisers, pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides have been used on those fields from then until now. (a rare thing) Tir Gofal field officers, instead of being curious about the range of species such an “old-fashioned” management might create, were shocked to find some “improved grass” species along with the “marker species” which native grasslands were supposed (in their book) to exhibit. The presence of rye grass and white clover amongst the birdsfoot trefoil, plantain, knapweed and so on, indicated to them that the fields were too fertile. The remedy was the restoration of infertility (desert) by the taking of hay crops without return and the removal of all grass toppings.
The facts that – A – The fields were genuinely “unimproved native grassland” of twenty five years without any inputs whatsoever –
and – B – that removing fertility would remove both the mass and diversity not only of herbage, but more importantly of symbiotic soil flora and fauna – was of no interest to them at all.
We escaped from the Tir Gofal scheme and paid the subsidy back. The same ridiculous by-rote advice is still given, with demanded compliance by the new scheme managers of Glastir.
The fields have now had thirty five years of the same treatment, but without “environmental” subsidy.
Anyway much of our vast acreage of upland “permanent pasture” may be best returned to woodland. I cannot think that sheep are feeding the nation. A return of people at the expense of sheep may return commons of a lot more than grass. Uplands will still provide much diminished, but useful summer pastures in the Hafod/Hendre manner and the rotational benefits of integrated pasture/arable/horticultural land will always remain. Paying subsidy to maintain sheep on poor upland and hill grazing, which would be better as woodland, is poor economic and terrible ecologic management. Restoration of woodland will be necessary for future economies – for house and boat-building – and will provide more employment over the same acreage than an upland pasture.
Bare hillsides are also recipes for flooded valleys. Poor land cleared of its natural vegetation for sheep subsidy also sends its un-trapped run-off to flood the good land below!
Subsidy – and the fact that its rights are traded among those with the money to do so – is very much holding us back from change.
That traditional ways of life containing sheep flocks have been woven into the culture of the hills is undeniable. Not all sheep farming has been by an original violent enclosure of the common good by the “great estates”. In truth, pockets of sheep and cattle farming can still be woven into a more wooded upland – contributing to diverse incomes from resiliently-diverse markets. George Monbiot proposes a simple remedy to the subsidy system – to remove the stipulation to actually farm from the Single Farm Payment. The income of sheep farmers is the subsidy. The sheep break-even or make a loss. A land-holder could take the subsidy, return to his house and read a book, while abandoning his previous life of toil. He would receive the same income, while his land would “re-wild”. That is, it would return to scrub and then woodland. On the other hand, those who loved their way of life; their flock; their culture, could continue as before.
SEVEN – INTERNET ESCAPES WHICH LEAD NOWHERE
(I’m probably controversial). Another way that we can be held back from change is the internet. Internet shopping for box schemes, exotic produce, such as rare breed meat, salt marsh lamb and so on, wine, books…. anything! – may be selective, “green” and interesting – the tastes of may terrains – But it contributes to the decay of town centres, street markets, corner and village shops – I know that those corner shops can also trade online – but they’d do so better from a garden shed or low-rental warehouse or farm out-building – and some do – evacuating a real community with expensive rents and rates, for a virtual one, perhaps trading from pleasant surroundings, but trapped in market-speak and without real connection to their customers.
The internet is a marvellous thing and can be an agent for everything under the sun – both the best and the worst. But it can lead us into cosy fantasies, in which we become actors in a felicitous novel, bearing meaning and identity forever, on the best of virtual china plates. Meanwhile, the world immediately beyond our door, full of flesh and blood, bricks and mortar and roads which might lead quite otherwise – are ignored. Flesh, blood, bricks and mortar may become the most trite of clichés to our sophisticated net trawler – but then so might the goings on of the world – as seasons change – for an un-regarded for better, or for worse.
The relationship I might form with my internet box scheme provider, while seeming human, is probably a post-modern revival of a modernist dependency on favourite brands. Such dependency holds us back from change. It labels us, concerned, futuristic and enlightened – without having to do a thing about it. Those branded box schemes, which are spreading franchises across the whole of Britain (God knows why, but for wealth and power) dispossess town centres, local markets and also delightful perversities in both husbandry and cuisine, which might arise from unique terrains – and although “the brand” may provide an easy market for a diversity of growers it locks them into a corporate identity, in which their own identities are frozen. Box schemes, such as Riverford have an excellent code of ethics for sourcing fairly and sustainably, but that strength is a seductive danger – For changed times, what we do must change. What we do is our identity. Branding holds back personal identity inside a brand identity. You rejoin (dearest reader) that the internet can liberate delightful perversities – and so we come full circle – I agree.
EIGHT – FULL CIRCLE TO FUTURISM
Naturally, futurism negates the future. Just as social mobility presupposes hierarchy and negates equality, so futurism presupposes a future and endorses it to be what was previously supposed. It negates what must be irrefutable in anyone’s book – that present actions create the future.
Deferring responsibility to the projected ingenuity of its children is probably the most despicable of all Post-Modernity’s attitudes. The cult of an automated progress is conveniently-embraced by most politicians, most political parties and by most “scientists” who seek commercial peer-review. Lazy philosophers considering the (fictitious) nasty, brutish and short lives of a regressive past, hold, like A C Grayling, to the progress of the future. What he does to create that future is indolently undefined. No footsteps cross the sand to his wonderful mirage.
It has been convenient to forget two truths – One – There has been no change in thought since thinking began. – Two – There cannot be such a change until our next intellectual mutation.
Poor A C G has neglected the only path that can lead to new ingenuity – by the errors of tool making – tools are remade as they become inappropriate to the physical presence of the PRESENT.
I suppose, the central problem of post modernity is the dependency of the most on the provisions of the very few – So we have a narcissistic love of instant “ideas” combined with a careless ignorance of the world; we have “clever” architects, who express the soul of the future and “stupid” builders who merely follow instruction; we have a projected permaculture “designed” by those incapable of its execution.
We can both educate and seek education with enthusiasm, but learn nothing, since our world has been pre-conceived. Only experience teaches.
Ideas are seductive – So we propose cities of vertical gardens, in which nutrients and water are dripped in perpetual cycles, like a beautiful dream of photo synthetic sunlight. Quite often, such dreamers are “green” dreamers, though why they’d promote an extreme example of very high-input, utterly unsustainable agriculture is difficult to gauge. I suppose that drip, drip, drip of nutrients seems so watery, modernist and transparent that it cannot hold much harm – apart from mining Earth’s fossil resources (phosphate, potash and coal, gas or oil) faster than the most extreme of cereal prairie farming. Yet vertical gardening seems so elegant – until we attempt its functions….
The wonderfully-fertile Terra Preta soils of the Amazon Basin have been built up through centuries by the application of charcoal. Agriculture was supplemented by fishing, hunting and gathering so that a large surplus of fertility could be returned to the cultivated areas. Ingeniously that fertility was preserved (fermentation and so leaching and gasification were slowed) by charring.
Post modernity has seized the elegance of the idea – the wisdom of the ancients combined with a scientific futurism, in which carbon is elegantly “sequestered” in the form of charcoal. Unfortunately, post modernity has no wilderness for foraging and so has no surplus fertility to preserve. On the contrary, the central problem of modern food production is its dysfunctional system for the return of biomass (sewage, food and green waste and so on) to grow more biomass. Instead of surplus we have deficiency. Judiciously-applied, those wastes would be spread very thinly indeed. To further reduce that deficiency by charring it – so reducing complex proteins to much less than their original composition – is madness – a typically post modern madness. It is no coincidence that bio char has been marketed as Carbon Gold by the same “organic millionaire” who has lead organic technique down the super market aisle towards its current ephemeral state.
NINE – POLITICS
Sometimes we change our presentation of the truth, because we think others will not accept it. In consequence we can be led downhill to a world of socially-plausible identities. Sometimes we can be so concerned with presenting that identity, that we forget what we were originally planning to present. Zero Carbon Britain 2030’s major compromise was for air traffic. Instead of presenting a politically-unacceptable, but important truth – that air traffic is impossible, it proposed to reduce it by two thirds – the remaining third to be powered by biofuels. The report was then led further astray by endorsing “good” over “bad” biofuels – that is perennials and non-land-use-change harvests over annuals and clear-felled forests for agriculture. But any burnt biomass simply reduces the mass of bio – for both photo synthesis and future biomass yield. It increases CO2 in the air and diminishes carbon in both soil and plant.
Politics can lead us step by step to places far from our original intention. Rarely can we change the politics. Usually it changes us. This is not to say we should not speak to politicians, but that we should be very careful when we do. Of course the theme of this book is that since we lead unsustainable lives we must change the ways we live. Politicians may make that more or less difficult, but it remains true none can change our lives better than ourselves! If we argue for the closure of Heathrow airport at a political gathering and yet still occasionally buy air-tickets, then something is very wrong with our understanding.
TEN – PLANNING GUIDANCE
There are vast areas of Britain, completely reliant on fossil fuels. It is ironic that these are areas such as Derbyshire’s Peak District and so on, where the picture-postcard image of bare moor and bare grassland has been preserved from what could liberate it from such a despicable and suicidal dependency. Those antiquarian scenes are collected and preserved like post cards for the aesthetic pleasure of oil and coal lovers. Wind turbines, which would affect no herb, grass, tree, bird, bug, fungi, lichen, bacteria, or beast, are banished from the “scenery”. The burning of coal and oil which will affect them all (many to extinction) is in consequence, protected. Scenery, which planning guidance seeks to protect is, for the most part, a tired theatrical replica of a selected period of history. As we’ve explored under Subsidies, the most popular is a period when people were cleared from the land to make way for money (sheep and sporting estates). Sheep made the rich richer by their wool. Modern planning guidance could perhaps reflect that wool is now worthless – having been replaced by oil-derived fibres and slave-labour cotton. Apart from tourists and the staff to man their services and scattered sheep holdings, the Peak District and other national parks are now empty of people, trees and resilient and diverse ecosystems. National parks have a mission to re-create a theatrical backdrop – a scene painting for the enactment of an unpleasant period of cultural history. The natural world and possible ways for human cultures to settle in symbiosis with it are irrelevant to their cause. In their present form, national parks cause climate change.
With regards to sheep, wool must surely become valuable again and sheep a useful contribution to agriculture – in arable rotations, meat for feast days and the clicking and scraping of knitting needles and looms. However, a large proportion of upland pasture must be returned to woodland.
Planning guidance also severely restricts the building of homes for agricultural, forestry and fishing workers – many of whom would happily live in simple, inexpensive structures to be developed as their families developed. Rural house prices have no relationship to the costs of house-building, or to the wages and incomes of rural workers. Planning restrictions support the casino of property prices – in which the site value, rather than the structural value of a house, plays by far the largest part.
The casino of house prices reflects the larger casino of the “economy” – or lack of one. Modern planners believe that a collapse of property values may lead to a collapse in belief in the casino. Modern debt-created economies depend on the faith of punters – when belief crumbles, economies collapse. Modern economies are not founded on capital, but on belief. Current planning guidance re-assures belief in the casino and encourages inflated site values, the pillage of nature, rural poverty and a deserted countryside.
That casinos collapse does not mean that economies must collapse – people can transfer belief from fantastical fossil physics back to reassuringly ordinary physics. I digress a bit, to show how a fashionable and sudden recognition of good ordinary physics might propel a re-settlement of not only countryside, but of reality. The point is that planning guidance goes far in preventing that transference.
The necessary minimum ten-fold increase in agricultural labour cannot be accommodated by current planning guidance. Moreover, changes in agricultural practices will stimulate a corresponding change in agricultural services. Machinery manufacture, appropriate-scale mills; dairies; breweries will (I hope) swell population still further in villages and market towns.
We have explored how the planning process is powerless with regards to corporate applications. Many county councils now capitulate at the first application, rather than risk the expensive high-court appeals process. Super markets, ring roads and retail parks now strip work and identity from communities and create waste-lands with no honest function.
That the planning process is the most corrupt of all the functions of governance (outside the highest level of those “country suppers”) is unlikely to be disputed.
ELEVEN – STATISTICS
Statistics hold us back. Many will see the lack of statistics as the main fault of this book. Actually, the lack is its central virtue. That coal, gas and oil will one day be mined to extinction is a simple truth which needs small analysis. Any proper citizen should be considering a life without them. I am not saying that statistics have no value – on the contrary – their proper use is reassuring. The many historically-recorded measurements of atmospheric CO2, temperatures, sea ice and so on point us in a very simple direction – which is to leave fossilised proteins where they lie, quietly sequestered.
Considering statistics of energy used to maintain our current way of life leads us up a blind avenue to nowhere. Even with good efficiency savings – with every loft insulated and every car either electric, or running at a hundred miles to the bio gallon, there is no way we can find resources for those energy needs. Producing renewable energy to supply the current purposes of the electricity grid would be hard enough (but possible with “efficiencies”). But to supply current transport needs with additional renewable energy, on top of the demands of the grid is surely impossible.
Because statistics point to the impossibility, many come to the incorrect conclusion that we must be “realistic” and that renewable energy does not work. The incorrect conclusion leads to a further maze of data on efficiencies, targets and future technologies. The green movement is full of data for both future fantasies and contemporary action-avoidance – sequestration being the first in line. We can justify our carbon emissions by the statistical presentation of carbon sequestered in “our” fields. We can also buy dispensation from the consumerist shelf in the forms of bio char and compost.
The truth is that our way of life does not work – a back of an envelope provides plenty of space for the calculation. What’s more, new ways of life can only be found by living them.
Statistics hold back the very simple conclusion that renewable energy is the only energy and that we have the interesting social problem of living within renewable limits. They also hold back the conclusion that renewable agriculture is the only culture and that we have another highly-interesting social problem of settling within its limits too. Green revolutionary yield statistics are no help, because the power sources for the green revolution are coming to an end. Organic yield statistics should be no discouragement, because we should be urgently out and about in the field learning better practices. Time is running through the glass and we only learn by doing – gathering data as we go. Data collected from anachronistic and impossible lives is an irrelevance.
Statistics hold us back from the vital first step, which is to change our way of life. Meanwhile, “the concerned” are feverishly gathering data, downloading the latest scientific papers and writing and reading opinion pieces on possible applications of the latest research – wasting time, to avoid what they have to do. We already have all that we need to know.
TWELVE – CONSUMERISM
We can remain responsible for nothing, growing richer by our property values, while demanding that others reveal the social and environmental impacts of what they deliver for our cash.
We scan a range of produce, add and subtract the revealed goods and bads and come up with an answer to the sum. So, we accept some bads, perhaps because other bads are worse and/or because some goods outweigh the badness. Yet those goods and bads may be a jumble of unrelated activities. Instead of considering best distribution methods, best packaging, best agricultural techniques and so on, one activity can be excused by another. The problems of the excused bad can be forgotten. Of course, I could have written this in the Dispensation bit. An organically-grown apple plucked by hand from its tree may be reckoned so good with regards to CO2 emissions, that it outweighs the thousands of miles travelled to deliver it between hemispheres. Idiotic TV chefs have been at it again recently “debunking” food miles by presenting other ingredients to food production as “worse”. Their helplessly- consumerist minds are thus set at rest. Here is something from Romantic Economics, derived from an equally idiotic 2008 Guardian article by Robin McKie and Caroline Davies.
Professor Gareth Edward-Jones of Bangor University knows his career prospects will improve if he tells us we can buy air-freighted Kenyan beans, because our profligate British agriculture emits more carbon growing such beans than Kenyan air-freighting does. Moreover he suggests that Kenyan manual and natural agriculture has the advantage of our British oil-driven agriculture of mechanization and oil, or gas derived sprays and fertilizers. His conclusion is not that we should introduce his wholesome Kenyan agricultural model to Britain, or that we should stop such profligate air-freighting, but that we are pardoned to continue both as before. Air freight is not quite the emitter that pesticidal, fungicidal, herbicidal, matricidal oil-based agriculture is and so we can continue to air-freight. His advice is: Do nothing. You are pardoned, because others do worse.
Misuse of statistics has become institutional. How can we compare energy use in a whole growing season, with the crazy, profligate, final couple of days of distribution? We must compare distribution methods with other distribution methods and agricultural husbandry with other agricultural husbandries.
The Soil Association used such a balancing to justify the air-freighting of “fairly-traded” organic beans from Kenya. In SA’s book, the social good of some money for a “good” Kenyan farming community out-weighed the profligate, resource-eating, climate-changing transport-flight of an utterly unnecessary frivolity.
At the time, the Soil Association was considering a ban on air-freight for organic certification. Instead it introduced the “fair trade” dispensation.
To try to persuade the Soil Association to do what it eventually did, Gareth Thomas, MP, Minister for Industry and Development at the time said “Our view is that the Soil Association should not go ahead with its proposed changes. We are pretty clear that they will have a negative impact on African farmers and it gives the sense that air-freight is automatically bad.”
Of course air-freight is automatically bad. Gareth Thomas went on to say that travelling six and a half miles in a family car with a pack of beans emits more carbon than an air flight from Kenya! This is a direct lie. His figures (not revealed) are for a fully-laden jet and for a large car carrying just a 100 gram pack of beans.
Anyway both consumerists and those on whom they depend (such as the Soil Association) love to play with the figures – one to maintain a happy dependency and the other to continue as before.
There’s nothing like a convenient sum to debunk the truth.
Consumerism receives the whole package (the bread) and is happy to play with some unrelated sums (the circus). The same can be said of packaged political parties – and of the consumer-choices we have to elect them.
Furthermore the food miles debunked by our TV chefs, use fast-diminishing, climate-changing fossil fuels, whereas a properly organised agriculture can go onwards the same, though dynasties pass.
Glib, consumerist presentation of the CO2 emissions content of a foodstuff – such a percentage to production, such to distribution, such to the purchaser’s journey and such to cooking – pre-suppose a helpless dependency on the whole package: on the brand. Let’s cease our consumerism and become actors – producers in the drama. We can never say this enough – Cultures are what we do. The growing of food; the distribution; the purchase; the cooking are utterly separate problems. Once we have found the best techniques for each we can integrate them into a culture. Yonder, a maid and her wight come whispering by. War’s annals will cloud into night – Ere their story die….
AND FINALLY THIRTEEN – THE BBC We expect their appropriate views of the world from the right wing, left wing, or liberal news media. But many assume a representation of a range of views from the BBC. Here is an example of the BBCs “balance” from Dana Nuccitelli and John Abraham of the Guardian.
Justin Webb: So [the warming is] there somewhere?
Sir Brian Hoskins: Oh yes, it’s there in the oceans.
Lord Lawson: That is pure speculation.
Sir Brian Hoskins: No, it’s a measurement.
Lord Lawson: No, it’s not. It’s speculation.
Justin Webb: Well, it’s a combination of the two isn’t it? As this whole discussion is. Lord Lawson and Sir Brian Hoskins, thank you very much.
What a perfect example of “fair, balanced, and impartial” coverage! A climate expert states an empirical fact, a climate contrarian flatly denies this factual reality, and the BBC host declares that the truth must surely lie between fact and fiction.
“Balance”, in this case is a very dangerous thing, which leads us further from the truth. The BBC, and in particular, the Today Programme have sought that same sort of balance in the political side of every sphere. It is notable how emphasis always shifts to the “centre” of a consumerist dependency on a corporate supply. “Balance” is never (or very seldom) brought to economic debate by allowing economists to argue over economic growth from a finite supply – rather two economists will argue about rates of growth. After the Hutton Inquiry, the status quo has been assumed. Climate change threatens the status quo and so is brought into “balance”. Likewise – energy supply. Middle class, reasonable voices calm our anxieties. We’ve had a vast acreage of BBC reporters standing knee deep in flood water, listening to polemics for dredging, sea walls – for the limits to expenditure, yet to mention climate change in a time of climate change would seem unbalanced and a little impolite.
Reasonable people may be seduced into that sort of balance and so be held back from even thinking about change.